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What's in Store for Unified Communications & Collaboration?

December 12, 2017

From the launch of Microsoft Teams and Slack Enterprise Grid, to the retirement of industry veteran Skype of Business, this year brought major changes to the Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) market. Made by some of the biggest players in the space, these announcements are reflective of a larger trend of how we communicate in the workplace. In the year ahead we will see a fundamental shift away from the voice and text tools we’re familiar with, towards truly collaborative UC platforms.

UC tools were originally designed to streamline voice communication, and eventually moved towards email and chat-based tools. However, in today’s fast paced work environment, email has become an ineffective way to communicate. While we gain satisfaction by clearing out our inboxes, that doesn’t necessarily signify a job well done anymore. Now, work is more centered on collaboration, and the UC&C market is starting to reflect that shift. For example, emailing a coworker a document for their edits produces different results than sharing the document and commenting and editing it together, in real-time.

In my opinion, Microsoft’s announcement that Skype for Business will be incorporated in the Microsoft Teams platform exemplifies the shift. Skype for Business has been the longtime leader in the UC&C space - at the beginning of the year it was already the app of choice for 36 percent of organizations, and that number was projected to reach 44 percent by the end of 2018 (source).

In the move to fold Skype for Business into Microsoft Teams (which is already a rising playing in the space and is set to outpace both Slack and Google Hangouts over the next year), Microsoft is adapting to the changing workflow of its users. The biggest differentiator for Teams is its ability to integrate into other applications - SharePoint, storage, Box, OneDrive, etc. - giving users the context needed to achieve legitimate collaboration. Sorting through an email chain or a chat app only gives the user selective bits of information that they need to independently piece together. With a fully integrated UC&C platform, users can follow the growth of a project -- who started the document, what resources were used, which teams participated, etc. This new layer of context allows users to work more efficiently, and more effectively within the integrated platform.

Looking at the year ahead, we’re only going to see more growth in the UC&C space. Already there has been a deluge of new, non-traditional players entering the market as things continues to heat up. I anticipate that this friendly competition will only enhance the features offered by the bigger players, including Microsoft, Slack and Google. As the platforms grow more advanced, the greatest challenges most businesses will face will likely lie in user adoption. Like most software tools, success falls upon adoption which starts by addressing user needs. This means companies need to invest time in ensuring that employees understand how to use UC&C tools, when they should use them and how they will make their jobs easier. As this market continues to evolve, I look forward to seeing the innovations that 2018 brings - both in our UC&C platforms, and in the ongoing digital transformation of the globalized workplace.

Edited by Mandi Nowitz

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